Perfect for Celebrating Bastille Day & the Tour de France
July means big doings in France. On the 14th — le quatorze juillet (Bastille Day) — France celebrates her “national day” with festive eating, drinking, and fireworks. There will be a military parade along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a broad, beautiful boulevard that runs through the heart of swanky northwestern Paris.
And throughout the first 3 weeks of July, France hosts the most famous bicycle race in the world, Le Tour de France. This 2000+ mile race takes cyclists through some of the planet’s most gorgeous scenery — and up some of its toughest mountain climbs. On the last day of le tour (July 22 this year), the cyclists ride triumphantly to Paris, where they finish with a sprint around the Champs-Élysées (usually riding 8 circuits of the avenue, about 19 miles total) at speeds exceeding 40 miles an hour.
Those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be in Paris this July can create our own celebration — with The Champs Élysées Cocktail.
Recipe: The Champs Élysées Cocktail
The Champs Élysées tastes a bit like The Sidecar. So if you like that drink (one of my favorites!) you’ll enjoy this.
This cocktail requires two extremely French ingredients: cognac and Chartreuse. Cognac you know already — it’s French brandy, and is also used in the Sidecar.
Chartreuse, however, may be new to you. When you think Chartreuse, you probably picture a distinctive shade of green. And in fact the tint got its name from this liqueur, which has been produced in exactly this hue since the 1740s (there is also a yellow version; more in the Notes). Chartreuse gives the Champs Élysées Cocktail a bit of an edge. You definitely know there’s something going on in this drink — something pretty tasty.
I learned about this cocktail from reading Robert Hess’s discussion on his website, DrinkBoy. According to Hess, the recipe for this drink first appeared in print in 1930 in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. My recipe is adapted from these sources.
This recipe serves one, and takes 5 minutes to prepare. You can easily scale up the measurements to serve as many as you like.
- 1½ ounces cognac (or brandy; nothing too expensive — a moderately priced VSOP or even VO like St. Remy or Raynal works well)
- ½ ounce green Chartreuse (you may substitute yellow)
- ½ ounce lemon juice (freshly squeezed is a must)
- 1 teaspoon Simple Syrup
- 2 - 3 dashes bitters (to taste)
- lemon slice or twist for garnish (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously (20 to 30 seconds) until the drink is cold.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably chilled).
- Although this drink is often served ungarnished, you may choose to add a lemon slice, wheel, or twist.
- Because there’s citrus in this drink, you should shake it (the citrus will make the drink cloudy, so the bubbles you generate by shaking won’t matter, and shaking is the best way to incorporate citrus into a cocktail). For more info on when to stir and when to shake, see Cocktail Basics.
- You can substitute table sugar for the simple syrup, but it’s more difficult to mix, so you’ll have to shake longer.
- Carthusian monks began making Chartreuse in the 1740s in the town of Voiron (close to Grenoble and the French Alps in southeastern France). Production hasn’t been continuous, though. The brothers were expelled from France in 1793 and again in 1903. They produced Chartreuse in Spain from 1903 to 1927, when they regained possession of their distillery in Voiron.
- Chartreuse is sweet, with strong herbal flavoring (it’s made from 130 herbs, roots, and leaves). This liqueur is extremely pungent, so in cocktails a little goes a long way. Good thing, too, because it’s much higher proof than most liqueurs: 110 (55% alcohol; the yellow is 40%).
- Yellow Chartreuse is a bit milder, with less edge than the green variety. Most of the time, you shouldn’t substitute one for the other. But in this drink, you can get away with using either green or yellow.
- The ingredient measurements for this drink are not set in stone. Robert Hess suggests using ¾ ounce of lemon juice and ½ ounce (3 teaspoons) of sugar. That makes the drink too sweet for my taste, but you may prefer it.
- I’ve also seen versions of this drink with ¼ ounce lemon juice and 1/8 ounce sugar (a bit less than a teaspoon). Too tart, I say — but again, you may prefer it.
- The point is: With this (or any) drink, if your first mixture doesn’t please you, just adjust ingredients until you get something that tickles your taste buds.
To the Barricades!
July 14 earned its special place on the calendar in 1789, when French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, a Paris prison and munitions warehouse. The Bastille was a symbol of royal tyranny that had once housed political prisoners, but the revolutionaries weren’t aiming to free the oppressed. They really wanted the considerable quantities of gunpowder and shot that were stored there. (At that point, only 7 prisoners were on the premises, none for political reasons, and the Bastille was actually in the process of being shut down).
The storming was a bloody affair (98 people — revolutionaries and prison defenders — died). After taking the Bastille, the revolutionaries barricaded the streets of Paris, bracing themselves for a counterattack by the French army — an attack that never came. The streets of Paris were narrow then, and easy to blockade, allowing revolutionaries to create deadly chokepoints where soldiers could be ambushed. And Parisians had been using this tactic for a long time, most notably on the Day of the Barricades in 1588.
It was this proclivity to barricade that eventually led officials to install the wide avenues and charming parks that grace much of today’s Paris. During the mid-19th century, Napolean III carried out a vast renewal of the city. It included reworking street and sewer grids, regulating building facades, and erecting public monuments. Often called the Haussmann Plan (after Baron Haussmann, who directed the work between 1853 and 1870), this renewal made Paris stunningly beautiful — while also broadening key streets so Parisians could no longer barricade them so easily.
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées wasn’t created by this plan (its existence predates Haussmann), but it’s a great showcase for the best of French urban design. It’s also one of the most famous streets in the world, and is home to exclusive shops and high-rent real estate. It’s a great place to sit at a sidewalk café and watch life stroll past — in a world forever changed by the French Revolution.
So this July 14th, hoist a Champs Élysées Cocktail to those brave revolutionaries. And on July 22nd, be sure to sip a Champs Élysées (the drink) as you watch those Tour de France racers tear around the corners of the Champs-Élysées (the street) on their flimsy bikes at breathtaking speeds. You may be reminded of a favorite saying popular in New Orleans (with its Cajun/French heritage): Laissez lez bons temps rouler!
Let the good times roll.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Betsy Ross Cocktail
Gin and Tonic
Sloe Gin Fizz
This looks delicious and beautiful. I wish I drank more so I could make these but rarely do, it doesn't seem to agree with me as much since I've gotten older. However, I know where to go when I want to create a fabulous drink that everyone will love - right here!
Great tips as always and beautiful photo.
my husband is so glued to his tour de france. i served him and my son some crepes to go with the French mood all weekend long but I think The Champs Élysées Cocktail will be a great surprise for my hubs... thank you!
Great tips and photos. I love the intensity of the black background!
Happy Tuesday.. cheers!
Hi Vicki, it's a fun drink! Actually Mrs KR and I aren't particularly big drinkers either (hard to tell from the blog, isn't it?!) but we do enjoy flavor - which cocktails deliver. Thanks for the compliment, and the comment.
Hi Malou, my wife and I love le tour! It's our favorite sporting event, and we're glued to our TV every July. Something about all that furious pedaling that's mesmerizing. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Yum! What a delicious cocktail. I hope you have a great Bastille Day.
That is one handsome cocktail there my friend. As always, photos look great. :)
Hi Spicie Foodie, it's really a pleasant cocktail. Hope you have a great Bastille Day, too. Thanks for the comment.
Hi ray, thanks for your kind words, and the comment.
Beautiful, as always. My favourite musical is Les Miserables - such a dramatic time in history.
Hi Suzanne, Les Miserables is a great story. And it was indeed a dramatic time. Thanks for your comment.
If you say that this drink is perfect for the Tour de France then I guess I'm going to have to try it! Bobby and I love watching the race. I just wish cable would support it better and show more it. Beautiful drink!
Okay, can you hear me from over there??
Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Imagine me holding this drink and singing. Loudly. I can only sing when holding the Champs Élysées cocktail.
My grandmother (French) used to sing this song to put us to sleep when we were kids. :)
Hi MJ, we dropped cable right after the tour last year (we don't watch a lot of TV so it seemed silly to pay for something we rarely used), so this year we subscribed to online access via NBC sports for $30. It's nice - you can stream the race real time, and can go back and watch any stage you want whenever you want - up to the end of August, when the subscription expires. And there are no commercials! I doubt if it's really more coverage than cable, but it's much more convenient. Enjoy your drink! Thanks for your comment.
Hi Maureen, I can hear you fine! Let me join in:
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L'étendard sanglant est levé
(And yes, I had to look that up!). Kind of a rousing song to use to put kiddies to sleep. ;-) But a really nice story. Thanks for the comment.
I love the colour of this drink.
I love the color .. so vibrant and refreshing!
I have often heard about Tour de france race. And this thought is often accompanied with, "if i were them, I'd save a bunch of air-ticket expenses". Then.. "Of course, if i were able to fly, I would be able to earn money transporting people across the world". I'd be the worst superhero ever (but rich, maybe).
I have a few bicyclists who are crazy about Le Tour de France. It must be wonderful to ride along the beautiful scenery. You really make delicious looking cocktail and I actually look forward to your drink posts (and I'm not even a strong drinker. Haha!). Beautiful drink for the weekends!
That really does sound like a busy month in France! The Euro to AUD is so good right now, wish I have the time to visit France!
Beautiful photos and another fantastic cocktail ;) You seem to drink a lot of cocktails, should tell my boyfriend to visit your blog as well since he's a huge cocktail fan! Do you have a very big collection of alcohols?
I'm glad you put that link on when to shake or stir a drink, cause really I have no idea, but it makes perfect sense, and I imagine my drinks will taste so much better for guests and myself:) I would rather be sitting in France, but I'll settle for a sip or two of The Champs Élysées Cocktail, you have here. Thanks for sharing as always.
Hi Tania, it's really pretty. But that's seems to be pretty common with so many drinks. Just another reason to enjoy them! Thanks for your comment.
Hi Baker Street, isn't it great? And "vibrant" is a great word to describe the taste of this drink. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Pencil Kitchen, lol! Probably being rich would be compensation for being the worst superhero ever? Not having ever been either, I wouldn't know. ;-) Thanks for your comment.
Hi Nami, there are a lot of bicyclists who vacation in France riding part of the route taken by le tour. It's a particularly favorite activity to ride up some of the mountains - you need to be in good shape to do that! And I'm delighted you're looking forward to the drink posts! Even if you don't drink (or drink cocktails - many people who like beer or wine don't like cocktails), they're fun to read about. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Jenny, we actually don't drink that many cocktails - usually one or two on Friday evening, and often another on Saturday or Sunday. But, yes, we do have more bottles of alcohol than many people, simply because when we see a new drink we like, we'll buy what we need to make it. And the Summer Sippin' Series isn't helping - I've featured a few drinks (like the Sloe Gin Fizz) that I've not had before, and for research purposes ;-) I had to buy two different kinds of sloe gin (I'm dedicated). Thanks for your comment.
Hi Alessandra, you can really shake or stir whenever you want, but there are good reasons to do one or the other. I'd love to be in France at the moment (to watch le tour and, well, to be in France!), but drinking a Champs is a small consolation. Thanks for commenting.
Ooh la la! What a beautiful cocktail. I'd love to try one (while watching the tour de france of course)!
I've never had one. But I'd drink it just for the name. Gotta love anything associated with Paris' grand boulevard.
Hi Jeanne, watching le tour is a great way to try one of these! Thanks for commenting.
Hi Carolyn, I have to admit, it's the name that first attracted me, too. Then when I saw the ingredients, I knew it was similar to the Sidecar - one of my favorite cocktails. So of course I had to try it. Thanks for your comment.
Nice one. I have to share your page with my husband so that I can find these waiting for me at home:)
Hi Ilke, you certainly deserve to have a nice cocktail like this waiting for you at home! And I'm sure after your husband reads about this terrific cocktail, he'll want one too. ;-) Thanks for your comment.
As usual, great post, tips and recipe! This cocktail must taste delightfully good.
Stunning photos my friend, deserv ing off a beautiful drink :D
Choc Chip Uru
Well, I think I need to try making drinks. This looks SO good, your photos are breathtaking!
What a great idea to prepare a cocktail on this occasion. I like your cocktails in general. I'm in London, waiting for a wedding and I could use one of these, as there's plenty of stress over here, hahaha
Hi Rosa, thanks so much for the kind words and the comment.
Hi Choc Chip Uru, thanks for that, and for taking time to comment.
Hi Cathleen, they're not hard to make! And if you're using citrus, the ones you make are so much better than those most bars make (because they don't use fresh citrus). Thanks for your comment.
Hi Marta, we take any and every occasion to make a cocktail! Since you're at a wedding, maybe if you're lucky you'll get a Bellini! Thanks for your comment.
What an intriguing cocktail not only to learn about but to ooogle too! I often visit Robert's site and although I'm familiar with the SideCar which I adore, I've never heard of this one. I think it's about time I focus on getting myself a copy of the The Savoy Cocktail Book. I should note though, Kitchen, I did a quick look-up in S. S. Field’s American Drink Book, which was first published in 1953 and his notes relate that the "secret" formula for Chartreuse dates back to 1607. He also says that the yellow is/was 86% proof while the green is/was 100% proof. (perhaps it was waaay back then, lol...
Thanks for sharing...
Hi Louise, very good research on your part! (I don't know Field's book - I'll have to look at it.) Actually I think the formula for Chartreuse was first conceived in 1607 (I've also heard 1605). But it was complicated enough that they couldn't figure out how to make it in quantity. It wasn't until the 1740s (I've also seen 1737) that they started actually making it in quantity. Re the proofs, I believe that at at time the yellow was 86 proof. Most liquors which are now 80 proof used to be 86 proof. Re the green, I do know that the bottle on my shelf says it's 55% alcohol (110 proof). But who knows what it used to be? Anyway, good info! Thanks for that, and for taking time to comment.
Thanks for the history lesson and for the fantastic drink. However my favorite part is always your tips on making the beverage. Have a great weekend. BAM
Hi Bam, there's something for everyone in my posts! ;-) You have a great weekend, too. Thanks for the comment.
That looks sooo good! Your photos are stunning.
Hi Ali, it's a wonderful drink! Thanks so much for your kind words, and your comment.
I wanna have some of those
Hi Raymund, ;-) I think you should have some! Thanks for stopping by.
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